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Forecasters say they could run out of hurricane names

The ninth named storm of the year is headed for the Florida coastline, but unlike its predecessor, Hanna, this time the pronunciation isn't as clear -- at least to non-native Spanish speakers. Credit: CNN

Starting in 1953, the National Hurricane Center began assigning names for tropical storms that arise in the Atlantic. This year, forecasters worry they will run out of names for the number of expected storms in 2020.

Currently, there are six rotating lists of 21 alphabetical names used for storms in the Atlantic which are maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. This year, they have already used 9 names on storms.

Hurricane season could be active

On Wednesday, forecasters at Colorado State University who are known for their seasonal predictions revised their estimates and are now calling for “an extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.”

CSU’s forecast is calling for 24 named storms. They say of those 24 storms, 12 likely would become hurricanes and five could reach a “major hurricane status” of a Category 3 or higher.

“This forecast is based on an extended-range early August statistical prediction scheme that was developed using 38 years of past data,” the scientists from CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science wrote.

Why this year could be busy

They say this active season is due to a combination of factors in the tropical Atlantic. Namely, the ocean waters being much warmer than normal and the vertical wind shear being much weaker than normal.

“Warmer than normal water across the tropical Atlantic provides more fuel for tropical cyclones and also is associated with lower than normal pressure (as was observed in July) and increased instability – all of which favor more hurricane activity,” they write.

The lower wind shear they say also prevents dry air from getting into the circulation of a storm which can weaken its potential for growth.

Hurricane names and history

This year, only two of the nine named storms so far turned into hurricanes: Hanna and Isaias. The most recent year with more than 21 named storms happened in 2005. 

“Everyone should realize that it is impossible to precisely predict this season’s hurricane activity in early August,” the forecasters write, “[But,] our early August statistical model shows strong evidence on nearly 40 years of data that significant improvement over a climatological forecast can be attained.”

“As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them. They should prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted.”

A side effect of the coronavirus: unpredictable weather